Lead From The Front – Interview with Kirsty Gale
“Winning awards such as Best Business and Most Inspiring Business Woman confirms that setting the trend is the right thing to do.”
Kirsty Gale is the founder and CEO of Red Carpet Ready, a highly successful business based in Lincolnshire, which has become the largest prom and evening wear company in the country. She started the business after she took a friend’s daughter shopping for a prom dress and was left disappointed by what was on offer. Brand You met Kirsty at the Best Women in Business Awards 2022 and asked her to share the story of how she has built and grown her business with determination and grit to achieve £1.2m in revenue each year, five luxury showrooms, celebrity fans and her own exclusive dress range.
Congratulations Kirsty! At the recent Best Business Women Awards 2022, Red Carpet Ready was named winner of the Best Business category and you also won a Silver Award for the Most Inspiring Businesswoman. That’s quite an achievement. How does it make you feel?
Thank you! We had a fantastic Awards evening, it was amazing to be in a room full of inspiring female leaders. Being in such great company made winning the awards even more special. Running any business is difficult, and the past two years have been an absolute rollercoaster. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to reflect on what you’ve achieved. The recognition from The Best Business Women awards enabled us to press pause, celebrate our wins, and has renewed my focus and determination for the year ahead. Lead from the front has always been my motto and I’ve always believed in challenging the status quo. Winning awards such as Best Business and silver in the Most Inspiring Businesswoman category confirms that setting the trend is the right thing to do, and we should continue to be confident in being bigger and bolder.
How do you keep up with growing so fast?
Fuelling growth with your own vision and ambition is the best way to keep up. Too often, businesses get caught up with the competition. Instead of looking behind or around me, I always look forward – what can we do next? What’s not been done before? I feel that anyone who has started their own business has already shown their strength of character and so they should believe in themselves to keep the momentum going. It takes confidence and you have to minimise self-doubt, but growth is empowering.
Let’s discover a bit more about who you are, where you come from and how your story began.
If 13-year-old Kirsty could see me today, I don’t think she would believe it! I grew up in Kent and at age 15, juggled three jobs in a café, a fish and chip shop and a care home. In this time, my parents relocated to Lincolnshire. But, being the strong-minded individual I am, I refused to leave with them. I loved my jobs and didn’t want to leave them, so I stayed and lived alone whilst I finished school. This independence and drive has been the common thread throughout my life. I’ve always had entrepreneurial spirit, resilience and a desire to work hard. My philosophy is that I am the master of my own destiny, and having my own company is the epitome of that. Fast forward to the present: I am married with a nine-year-old daughter. I’m 44 but still think I’m 21 – lots of energy, very outgoing, always looking to create networks and relationships. I absolutely love what I do.
It wasn’t always easy though, was it? Tell us about some of the obstacles you faced in the working world as a young woman with drive and ambition, and how you overcame them.
Before starting Red Carpet Ready, the biggest obstacles were people’s perceptions. Unfortunately, and wrongly, being a blonde female still carries stereotypical judgement – especially if you throw ambition into that description too. Now, I enjoy disproving people’s preconceived ideas of business and see it as a compliment that they perhaps underestimate my drive, entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen. Whilst setting up Red Carpet Ready, friends and family questioned my vision: why take such a risk on buying large amounts of stock? Why don’t you build up slowly and see how things go? At times, it felt like no one believed in me, but I believed in myself and my ambition. I knew I could execute my plans and, whilst I listened to their concerns, thankfully I trusted my gut and persevered.
When Red Carpet Ready first burst onto the scene, competitors tried to shut down my supply chain both overseas and in the UK. It was a really testing time. But I didn’t give up. When there was a problem, I always found a solution; for example, purchasing in bigger volume or paying upfront. My philosophy in business is that every problem is solvable with the right mindset.
“Red Carpet Ready prides itself on creating memorable experiences, and I believe that should be for both the customers and our team.”
Building a business is not possible alone. Tell us about how you’ve grown your team and what areas of your business did you need the most help with?
Red Carpet Ready prides itself on creating memorable experiences, and I believe that should be for both the customers and our team. I want to ensure everyone in our company feels a genuine sense of purpose and are excited to come to the showrooms each day. To do this, I ensure they are rewarded both financially and through career development. I love being able to create opportunities for the team – especially those still at school – to grow, develop and flourish in the company and be promoted. We work exceptionally hard, but we have fun every step of the way. I would say that the area I have needed the most help with is the accountancy side. I’m not a numbers person (I think I got an ‘E’ in Maths!), but I do have a good accountant who I have worked well with since the business started. She is smart on the numbers and very analytical, so we are a good duo. You don’t have to be an expert in every area, but you do need to know about every area of the business.
What would you say are the highs and lows of being in business?
Even if you’re selling stunning dresses, being a business owner isn’t always glamorous. The hours are long. You rarely, if ever, properly switch off. You are encountering supply chain issues across the world. Finances fluctuate. Recruitment can be a rollercoaster. Add into that world events like the pandemic, and no day is ever the same! You’ve got to morph into being several different people at once. You’re not in just one job role. You’ve got to be able to diversify and quickly switch skill sets. This is where the long hours come in. At any moment, you are leading marketing, buying, PR, admin, customer service, finances… the list goes on. And in retail and fashion especially, the hours are unsociable. When other retailers are shut, we create windows of opportunity in evenings and weekends. During peak season, we have back-to-back bookings until 9pm. It’s a challenging and high-pressure environment.
When you create your own business, the sky’s the limit and the rocky patches only make you stronger and more resilient. You can push yourself and others to achieve what you may have previously thought impossible. Another high is transitioning from being a fashion lover to a fashion designer. I created my own dress label, RCR Exclusives, which is now manufactured globally. Wearing a dress you have designed is exciting, but to see celebrities in our RCR Exclusive dresses on the red carpet is amazing, and testament to all the hard work. The success of the RCR Exclusives brand has set me alight with new ideas and opportunities.
“Even if you’re selling stunning dresses, being a business owner isn’t always glamorous. The hours are long. You rarely, if ever, properly switch off.”
It must have been quite a challenge during the pandemic as so many proms and celebrations were cancelled, how did you survive?
The pandemic was one of the most, if not the most, challenging time in my career. Fortunately, I have always been very good at managing cash flow. I had built up cash reserves that carried the business through the pandemic, alongside the government’s emergency funding opportunities. If this had not been the case, I would have been in a very different position. I also used the unexpected pause to channel my energy into a passion – fashion design – and I set about creating my own exclusive dress range, RCR Exclusives. Since its launch, this has outsold all other brands out of our 21 designs sold in store.
To close our interview, what are your plans for Red Carpet Ready in 2023?
We have so many plans for the future! RCR Exclusives is definitely going to be an area of focus and development this year. I also want to dedicate more time to being part of the female business leadership community.
Interview by Olivia Marocco – founder of Brand You Magazine
Kirsty Gale, founder of Red Carpet Ready
Kirsty is the founder and CEO of Red Carpet Ready, market leader in prom and evening wear, stocking over 3,500 styles and catering for all budgets and sizes. She also designs and manufactures her own global dress label, RCR Exclusives.